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Capture of alleged US spy reveals the difficulties of being a CIA officer on Facebook

Capture of alleged US spy reveals the difficulties of being a CIA officer on Facebook

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The capture of alleged diplomat-turned-CIA spy Ryan Fogle in Russia this week has to stand as one of the more bizarre moments in recent memory. Reportedly attempting to hire a Russian intelligence agent as a US spy, Fogle was wearing an ill-fitting blonde wig when arrested in Moscow on Monday, in a scene that many have likened to a Hollywood spy movie. The Russian secret service released video of the arrest, along with images showing a "spy kit" of sorts. There's some doubt as to whether the kit is genuine: it contains humorously low-grade wigs, a collection of sunglasses, a hunting knife, a compass, a map, and other tools.

Fogle's arrest proves that traditional spying isn't dead, but, as The Wall Street Journal reports, it also reveals the complexity of staying undercover in the social media era. The CIA was late to react to social media, and only recently issued standardized guidelines for how officers should use services like Facebook and Twitter. There's a fine balance to be struck with social media: share too much, and officers could tip the other side, share too little, and there's a risk of arousing suspicion.

There's a fine balance to be struck with social media

Ryan Fogle's Facebook profile is marked as private — no photo or personal information is available to the public — but the young diplomat has over 200 friends on the social network. The WSJ obtained access to parts of Fogle's profile through his friends, and reports that it offers up "details about his social life, contacts, and travel plans." Those details include photos of a Moscow Cold War bunker, and banter with colleagues about his travel plans, including his flight route and the dates he intended to travel.

While CIA officers are reportedly encouraged to maintain a fairly active social media presence, they aren't supposed to post details of work projects or travel. They are, however, allowed to include photos and personal travel notes, which could explain Fogle's disclosure of flight plans as a cover — the alleged spy was supposed to be a regular diplomat.

De-friending officers could expose undercover status

The WSJ also dives into the quandary of Facebook friendships between colleagues: officers working undercover who are friends on social media could be exposed through link analysis, the paper says. But "de-friending" one another en masse could alert others to an officer's undercover status. Social media is likely the least of many officers' issues, but it perfectly demonstrates how complex it is to stay anonymous in our connected world.